North Belfast: Dodds hails ‘victory for democracy’, but SF within 2,000 votes of him

Pictured are Nigel and Dianne Dodds of the DUP at the count early on Friday. Picture Mark Marlow/pacemaker press
Pictured are Nigel and Dianne Dodds of the DUP at the count early on Friday. Picture Mark Marlow/pacemaker press

Holding North Belfast has been a matter of concern for the DUP for years now.

In 2010 the DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds was a mere 2,200 votes ahead of Gerry Kelly of Sinn Fein.

Nigel Dodds  pictured at the election count at Titanic Exhibition Centre Belfast.
Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye

Nigel Dodds pictured at the election count at Titanic Exhibition Centre Belfast. Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye

That year the combined nationalist vote, SDLP and Sinn Fein, was just behind the combined UUP and DUP total.

In 2015, the vulnerability of Mr Dodds’ position was disguised by the fact that there was a split nationalist-republican field against a sole unionist candidate.

It was further hidden by an overall nationalist turnout that was down that year, and so Mr Dodds won by the seemingly comfortable margin of 5,000 votes.

But all parties and pundits knew that the seat was much closer than that result suggested, and the Ulster Unionists announced from the start of this campaign that they would not contest the seat in an attempt to keep it unionist.

The Stormont results in March, which had overall nationalist and unionist voting numbers in a dead heat, confirmed how split was the seat.

John Finucane was a more palatable Sinn Fein candidate to some nationalist voters than the ex-IRA man Mr Kelly.

On Thursday he came within 2,081 votes of Mr Dodds – very close to the number of votes polled by the SDLP candidate Martin McAuley, 2,058, who had been described as a paper candidate.

Early yesterday, as Mr Dodds’ victory over Mr Finucane was confirmed, he hailed his fifth consecutive victory as a win for representation.

Speaking to the Union Flag-waving crowd at the Titanic Exhibition Centre, Mr Dodds said: “This is a victory for democracy. It is a victory for representation and it is a victory which represents the largest DUP vote in the last 20 years.

“The DUP, in this election in North Belfast, has made history and there’s more to come. This election was fought in the face of terrible terrorist atrocities across the UK and in this next parliament the DUP will play a very important role in terms of the great challenges that this country faces.”

As the results were read out, a smiling Mr Dodds clutched his MEP wife Diane Dodds before turning to give the thumbs up to the scores of supporters.

Mr Dodds, who is now one of the most powerful men at Westminster, said: “We will play a full role in parliament as we did in the last parliament.”

Mr Finucane, who saw his solicitor father Pat Finucane shot dead by loyalists in 1989, said: “I am exceptionally proud to have returned the biggest mandate any republican has ever returned in North Belfast.”

The votes cast per party were as follows:

DUP 21,240

SF 19,159

SDLP 2,058

Alliance 2,475

Green 644

Workers Party 360